Marcus Rashford scores brace with Man United's only shots on target as they withstand Liverpool comeback
A blistering game, a collision of two very different approaches, although all Jose Mourinho will care about is the victory he carved out, a gameplan of little attacking and a lot of retreating which has served him so well over the years.
Marcus Rashford scored twice in the space of ten first half minutes when Mourinho ruthlessly exposed the soft-heart of Liverpool’s defence – or rather he put Romelu Lukaku on Dejan Lovren and the consequences for Liverpool were severe. Twice Lukaku won a long ball sent down the middle and built the attack from which Rashford scored, and having made the running, United camped on the edge of the area and invited Liverpool to break them down
By the end, Liverpool had 68 per cent of the possession at Old Trafford and the only time United had conceded was Eric Bailly’s extraordinary own goal with 66 minutes played. Which was not to say that United were mediocre – in front of the England manager Gareth Southgate, Ashley Young was outstanding in marking Mohamed Salah into anonymity. As time ticked on the nausea grew in Liverpool and their manager Jurgen Klopp – they were being done by Mourinho.
The clouds darkened the Old Trafford afternoon in the closing stags as Liverpool threw themselves at United again and again. Liverpool had 12 corners and they kept being headed out.
United certainly started as they meant to go on, giving Liverpool all the freedom of their own half to build-up play, engaging them only once they came over the halfway line. They came to life when the ball was in David De Gea’s hands and Rashford and Juan Mata pushed up on either side.
Before the first goal, Nemanja Matic had given a clue to the masterplan, looking up early to strike the ball into the channels for Lukaku to pursue. On 14 minutes the goalkeeper launched down the centre and Lukaku planted himself in front of Lovren to leap and flick the ball on to Rashford.
There was plenty left for Rashford to do, a jab of the head to nod the ball down into his path and originally he went from a promising position goal-side of Trent Alexander-Arnold before having to come back around the young defender onto his right foot. He dispatched a beautiful shot past Loris Karius before the Liverpool defence had been given a chance to reorganise.
From there on the idea of their own weakness was lodged in Liverpool’s heads and the rampaging Lukaku could see that it was his for the taking. Again on 24 minutes it was another ball launched by De Gea and another header won by Lukaku, this time it fell to his feet and he pushed Emre Can away like the archetypal competitive father with a serious weight advantage. At first it fell to Mata but Virgil Van Dijk got a block to the ball that broke left for Rashford to finish again.
United had unleashed a storm on Liverpool and it took them the rest of the half for the visitors to regain their composure. They could not get Salah into the match. The passing in the midfield looked indecisive in comparison to United’s minimalist direct style. When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at last got on the ball and beat a man he immediately gave it away, but he was not the only one struggling.
In the second half, United did virtually nothing to press home their advantage. They defended on the edge of their box and broke the play up whenever they could. Young defended heroically. Chris Smalling pumped on the occasion and playing well threw Salah to the ground. The game was going United’s way until they made their first mistake.
The first was that Sadio Mane was isolated with McTominay and got down the left to cross whereupon Bailly managed to back-heel the ball inside De Gea’s near post while looking in the other direction and injured himself at the same time. Nothing Liverpool had tried had worked until then had given them a look-in but Bailly had opened the door.
Mourinho brought on Marouane Fellaini for Rashford and initially Old Trafford reacted with a boo before deciding there was no alternative to backing their manager. Klopp had replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain with Adam Lallana to try to change things.
When Lovren dived in on Fellaini the Liverpool manager ran down the touchline, perhaps even to admonish his own player and risked a red card. His frustration epitomised that of his team – they could not break United down